Sunday, January 24, 2010

Political Event Sponsorship and Free Speech

I'm of two minds about the recent Supreme Court decision to eliminate all current and historical constraints on corporate and union funding of political campaigns.

On the one hand, legislating against it has never really been fully successful; ways around the prohibitions have always been found. I think there's an analogy here to the outlawing of any behavior perceived as bad, like owning guns, drinking booze, or smoking marijuana. It's always done anyway, at least in the absence of truly draconian measures that are more than people can stomach in the long term.

On the other hand, all constraints? Wow.

What about sponsorships? I can see it now: "This mayoral election is brought to you by AIG, helping to insure freedom to sell job-friendly stock derivatives!"

Or even naming rights: "Welcome to our coverage of the Swiffer Sweeper Congressional Elections, dedicated to cleaning house!"

Prohibiting any of this would be depriving the companies of a form of free speech, right? And don't forget, elections are expensive. I'm sure there are lots of cash-strapped municipalities who would welcome some help covering the cost.

Friday, January 22, 2010

CFL Blues

I've been furnishing the office in my new house, and one thing I wanted to do was provide an adequate level of lighting (read: bright!), while not roasting the roof or using more electrons than necessary. Hence: compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

A neat thing about CFLs is that you can get a light fixture that is officially rated as only taking, say, a 50W bulb; and stuff it with "100W" CFLs, since they only use about 23W of electricity.

More good news is that CFL prices are diving faster than an peregrine falcon. Home Depot has "100W" CFLs from Phillips for $1.74 each. Wow! A far cry from the days of puny "40W" CFLs costing $7.

Now comes the bad part. Be sure to read the fine print. No two manufacturers seem to have agreed on basic things like how much light a "100W" CFL emits, or what actual color a "soft white" CFL emits. Or whether it works at all.

I found CFLs labeled "100W" rated as emitting anywhere from 1400 to 1650 lumens. That's  nearly a 20% difference. All are comfortably higher than the light emission from some 100W incandescents I had hanging around the house, but egad.

And having bought two of the Philips ones (1600 lumens), I found one only lit up half of the length of tubing. So, I returned it. Figuring that was a fluke, while in the store I picked up a four-pack of the same. But when I tried using them, not one worked. They didn't turn on at all. I was blaming the lamp, since it was new, too -- how could all four be bad? -- but then plugged in an incandescent bulb, which worked.

What the heck?

Tried a different brand -- "GreenLite Mini" -- and it worked, too.

I think it may be a slightly different socket shape on the Philips bulbs. But why the singletons I bought worked, and the four-pack didn't, who knows.

Anyway, I'm hoping to get a bunch of the GreenLites now that I know they work. I also prefer their color -- they actually specify a color temperature: 2700K, which is rather on the yellow, "warm," side, but not as yellow as the Philips. Unfortunately, I only found the GreenLites at a specialty lighting store, but the price was still fine: About $5 for a four-pack.

I really wish someone would make a CFL that's wide rather than tall. Then that ugly tubing wouldn't stick out of fixtures so much.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cow vs. Beef, Calf vs. Veal, and so on

There are in English several situations where the words for animals differ from the words for their meat: Cow vs. beef, calf vs. veal, and so on. I've heard, repeatedly, that this came from the Normal Conquest: The Anglo-Saxon serfs raised the animals, calling them by more Germanic words; but their Norman French lords ate the meat, and used the French words for what they ate. People seem to like to trot out this explanation to display their erudition.

Well, it turns out that it's wrong.

Stephen Pinker, in The Stuff of Thought, says that this theory originated in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, when Wamba the jester, explained it to a swineherd ("Mynheer Calf... becomes Monsieur le Veau..."). Pinker references Burchfield's The English Language as stating that "Anglo-Saxon and French words didn't sort themselves out until centuries later."

I don't have a copy of Burchfield's book to check this (I'll be fixing that), but frankly I don't understand what Pinker's "sorting" statement means or how it relates to the issue.

A quick google, however, came up with a discussion on AskMetaFilter where others pointed out that many languages refer to animals with different words than those used for food, for example: Japanese ushi (cow) vs. gyuuniku (meat from a cow); Spanish gallina (chicken) vs. pollo (chicken meat).

Since there was nothing analogous to a Normal Conquest for those other languages, I think the French-origin legend is toast without getting Burchfield involved. But this does raise a question: Why is there a general, cross-language tendency to use a different word for an animal than for its meat? One possible very direct answer: Because they're different things. Duh.
Testing whether posts by SMS work. And what blogger does with them.

Pizza Crust Cardboard

So apparently Slate has picked up on the Domino's ad where they quote allegedly real customer comments slamming their pizza, like "Domino's pizza crust to me is like cardboard" and "The sauce tastes like ketchup."

A shame nobody mentioned that Domino's pizza really does have crust like cardboard, sauce like ketchup, and, unmentioned, little hamburger balls like soft marbles.

Ugh. Horrible stuff.

I've no clue whether they actually did change it in any discernible way.


I found myself wanting to post things longer than a tweet or a FB entry, but not within the professional confines of my other blog, The Perils of Parallel (which is a really good technical blog about multicore, clouds, accelerators, virtual worlds, and similar stuff that, if you're into such stuff, you really should look at).

Hence this blog.

My family, at least, will recognize the reference to "gorp."